Man charged in case of teen allegedly held captive

A southwestern Illinois man was charged Saturday with aggravated criminal sexual abuse in connection with a St. Louis teenager who told police she was held captive in his home for three years and conceived a child with him before escaping.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said Saturday that 25-year-old Steven Elliot Johnson of Washington Park had sex with the teenager when she was underage, but would not comment on whether the evidence supports the teen's story of being held against her will.

Johnson was charged with a total of five crimes, including a felony count of promotion of prostitution, but Kelly would not say if that was related to the teenager. The other counts were two felony drug charges and a felony gun charge. He was being held in St. Clair County Jail on $2 million bond.

Johnson's mother, 54-year-old Owida Johnson, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment and was being held in the jail on $15,000 bond. The teenager, now 19, told police that the mother had helped detain her and falsify medical records when the now 2-year-old child was born.

Kelly said the two counts of child endangerment involve two children, but would not say to whom the other child belonged. Two children were taken from the Johnson home on Thursday by a SWAT team.

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"The investigation is ongoing," Kelly told The Associated Press. "We consider everything as it related to the credibility (of) the witnesses ... in deciding whether to issue charges."

No court date has been set and Kelly said no defense attorneys have been appointed.

"These are only the preliminary charges," Washington Park Police Chief Dave Clark told the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat on Saturday. "We are continuing the investigation and there could possibly be additional charges pending."

The teenager is with family members, Kelly said. The children are now in the hands of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Kelly said that officials found unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the home, including exposed wiring, spoiled food in the refrigerator, animal feces and insects and vermin.

Police say the teenager told them she met the suspect through a social acquaintance and visited his home around the time she was reported missing. The man wouldn't allow her to go back to her parents, she told police.

Clark, the police chief, has said the teenager bolted from the home Monday and told investigators that her time in captivity included almost daily beatings and sexual assaults.

Clark said Friday investigators plan to have the child's DNA tested to determine whether Johnson is the father.

Johnson's brother, Eric Johnson, told the News-Democrat that the teenager wasn't held against her will and frequently went to neighborhood stores and the child's pediatrician.

He said his brother had thrown the teenager out of the home several times.

"She always came back," said Johnson, who also told the newspaper that he once offered to take her to a shelter after one of the couple's numerous fights. Eric Johnson also defended his mother, telling the newspaper that she "took good care of that boy."

"When they took him out of the house, he was clean and not dirty," Johnson said.

Steven Johnson also faces charges of unlawful possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, which Kelly identified as cocaine; possession with intent to deliver marijuana; and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. Kelly said Johnson had a previous conviction for residential burglary in 2005.

The five charges combined would bring a maximum sentence of 30 years.

The teenager told police she repeatedly tried to escape the house, which is on Washington Park's busiest street and next door to a convenience store, just a half mile from a freeway.

Washington Park is a village of 4,200 people tucked on the edge of East St. Louis. Known for its strip clubs and poverty, the community has grappled for years with corruption and violent crime punctuated by the 2010 shooting death of the village's mayor, John Thornton.